Beyoncé dancing with her girlfriends, claiming “I ain’t thinking about you.” These acts and symbols establish a reclamation of power and agency in the face of the Madewood Plantation, an “impossible Black place.”
The final shot of “Apathy,” a group of five women walking into the wilderness, naked, symbolizing both courage and vulnerability as Beyoncé embarks on a new path, “far away” from her husband.
CH. 5 – EMPTINESS
Beyoncé as Pomba Gira
Left, Beyoncé encircled in fire, adorned with a blood red dress, a metallic bib necklace, and a spiked, bejeweled headpiece; right, a depiction of the Afro Brazilian spirit, Pomba Gira. Followers of Brazilian religions Umbanda and Quimbanda call upon Pomba Gira to aid them in matters of love, sex, and vengeance.
The long hallway
After a black screen and the sound of a door unlocking, the camera enters this long, eerie hallway, centered on an ominous red light at the end of it. Perhaps symbolic of “the curse,” the heart of the legacy of slavery and its inter-generational wounds inflicted upon the identities and relationships of African Americans.
The “House of Slaves” on Goree, an island off the coast of Senegal, the site of “The Door of No Return.” This doorway, opening out the Atlantic Ocean, is observed today as a symbol of the final threshold enslaved Africans passed through before boarding slave ships embarking on the tortuous Middle Passage to the Americas.
President Barack Obama looks out the “Door of No Return” during a tour of the Maison des Esclaves Museum on Gorée Island, Senegal, June 27, 2013 (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy). The site has also been visited by Pope John Paul II as well as Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
The camera dollies forward, giving the viewer a sense of compulsion and helplessness, drawn powerlessly forward toward this curse at the end of the tunnel.
Beyoncé, face obscured in the back seat of a luxury vehicle, drenched in the red lighting that will dominate the chapter.
Left, the camera ascends a staircase to enter a room revealing Beyoncé, swinging a red light over head menacingly, a blank expression on her face (right).
In the same room, a group of Black women in Victorian style dresses and furniture, depicting nightmares come to life, trapped by the curse that resides in this house haunted by the legacy of slavery and exploitation.
A wide shot of the house’s exterior where we notice Beyoncé’s still silhouette (bottom right) standing in front of the house, on display.
When comparing the shot above with the shot of the house’s exterior, we see a resemblance between the silhouette as well as the siding above the stage.
Beyoncé is performing a peep show trapped behind a pane of glass in front of the haunted house. Left, notice her hand pressed against the glass; right, rubbing her fingers together in gesture that implies money or getting paid.
Left, Beyoncé being chauffeured through what appears to be a red light district not populated with female sex workers but male patrons; right, a view from the chauffeur’s rear view mirror, a gaze from which Beyoncé averts her eyes.
In a reversal of gender roles, she is set out to capitalize on their sexual desire for her own profit, reversing the power dynamic and casting an objectifying eye. Note that many faces are turned away or obscured, implying a sense of shame or inferiority, heightening the objectification.
Lowering her window is an attempt to break the barrier between herself and the outside world. The barriers, the protective gaze, the aversion of eye contact, all imply the feelings of isolation and emptiness that dominate the mood of the chapter.
Her feelings of emptiness fully on display, as left, the camera stares straight up at a mirrored ceiling; right, the perspective changes to show Beyoncé in a white lace bodysuit staring at the mirrored ceiling.
Left, clutching a pillow in bed; right, a blank stare in a private moment. In stark contrast to the sexually empowered performer Beyoncé, here she is innocent, hurt, and vulnerable, as the song’s bridge reveals the grief below the surface.
The curse overcome
Left, the ominous red light at the end of the tunnel is shown alight in the film’s crucial turning point, where Beyoncé conjures fire to set the cursed hallway ablaze; right, the earlier shot for comparison.
Where earlier the camera was helplessly creeping toward the heart of the haunted house, here the direction changes, as the camera recedes as Beyoncé walks away from the fire she’s set and the curse she’s broken.
Two close-ups back-to-back. Left, Beyoncé in the back seat pleading for her partner to come back, her face lifted and no longer obscured by the larger brim of her hat; right, Beyoncé stares directly into the camera with the flames of the burning house roaring behind her.
As the camera zooms out, we see that Beyoncé is accompanied by the women from the parlor earlier who, like her, overcame the curse and are set onto a journey of recovery, healing and redemption.
BONUS MATERIALS: Episode Reference and Links
- Warsan Shire’s Grief Has Its Blue Hands in Her Hair
- Austin360 discusses Dr. Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley’s Beyoncé in Formation, Remixing Black Feminism
- Warsan Shire’s spoken word dear moon – (the distraction)
- Sample Source, Isaac Hayes, Walk on By (1969)
- Dionne Warwick’s original recording, Walk on By (1963)
- From Beyoncé’s YouTube channel, “Self-Titled”: Part 2. Imperfection